Saturday, February 24, 2007

Phythian Estate Residents Meeting

Wendy and I went to the Phythian Estate Residents Meeting on Thursday night.

As an organised group of residents I think it is fair to say they have been more or less defunct since the LibDem council shut their community centre where they had such a strong presence.

However, several families on the estate have been suffering from racial criminal damage by some quite young kids, to their homes for a while now and their efforts to resolve this have brought them into contact with various agencies. One of the families emailed me and then all three came to one of my surgeries a few weeks ago. I was very disturbed by what they told me, I wont go into any details as you will understand. I contacted the local police team for the area and went to the Tuebrook police station to see the local Inspector and had a long meeting with him about what the police could do to help - a lot as it turned out.

They had also been to see the youth worker in the (fabulous) youth centre on the estate. Since the closure of the community centre a few years ago, the youth centre has become a bit of a focal point for residents who want to talk to someone "in the council" about their problems.

The youth worker, like me, was very concerned and decided that we needed a public meeting and contacted me to get it organised. We asked the Chair of the old residents group to get involved and chair the meeting and he agreed. The police and youth services agreed to attend a public meeting and answer questions about any local concerns, not just the ones I have detailed above. We were also lucky enough to get someone from neighbourhood services to talk about future housing plans and Maria from Kenny Regen (there's that woman again, I wonder if there should be prizes for the most mentioned public servant on this blog?)

Anyway, the youth centre advertised the meeting and we had it last night (Thursday). There was a good turn out of residents, less so of LibDem councillors who had promised to attend but went back into invisible mode instead and kept away from this meeting too.

The meeting elected not to get into public detail about the racial criminal damage problems but residents did stress their strong support for the families concerned. The police gave a good account of themselves, both the neighbourhood Inspector, Dave Charnock, and the estate Sergeant, Andy Hall were there. They took a bit of flak which is always to be expected, but many residents agreed that the increased patrols they had instigated at our urging were helping a lot. The Sergeant told us that the Phythian is a very quiet and well behaved estate, with one or two very singular exceptions. It is a credit to the residents and it was important that they all knew this. Most of the crime related problems are in areas that immediately neighbour the estate, rather than being on it, and involve drug dealing but there are police operations currently in place that we dont need to discuss to deal with these.

The police stressed over and over again the importance of residents reporting their suspicions and I said I would act as a reporter if anyone was too frightened to go to the police themselves.

On the specific problem itself the Inspector has given me and the victims a promise of his personal attention. You cannot ask for more than that.

We heard from the youth service about lots of schemes they are engaged with, getting local kids involved in all sorts of activities and the good work the club is doing supporting those who have had school discipline problems but are now studying in the centre and learning new skills. Residents were made up with what they heard, they were fully supportive and their fears fell away, for that alone it was a great meeting.

The Housing rep, Ray, explained the stock-transfer ballot and answered, very honestly, umpteen questions about why housing repairs are not being done. Several residents said that they thought they were being blackmailed into stock transfer but both he and I emphasised the £300 million Liverpool is receiving from the (Labour) Government for vital housing repairs and revites if the vote goes ahead. I dont agree with stock transfer and I need to be honest and say that, but then again, if this is the only way, I dont see what choice tenants have. If it was up to me we would be setting up housing co-operatives on the Pythian, the Molyneux (odd houses belong to the council) and Butler Crescent, but it isnt up to me, so we are where we are.

I had a slot where I updated resident on Gawith plans - the taxi garage on the front on Kensington that is such an eyesore. Mr Gawith junior told me when I met him with Environmental Health last week that he is ready to refurbish, renew or redevelop once he is satisfied that Kenny Regen mean what they say about doing up the fronts generally. I would take the same attitude and I knew it would lift hearts, particularly on Gloucester Court.

I talked about my walkabout with Ronnie and Larry earlier in the week and the hotspots we had identified in the immediate Phythian area - the park, the Phythian pub environs, the back entries and so on. I believe Neighbourhood Services will take my criticisms on the chin and we can expect a much better service now they know exactly what needs doing.

I explained that the traffic calming already in place is going to be reviewed after I approached Highways Engineers at the behest of residents, the design of the humps on Phythian Street lend themselves to people cheating by driving on the pavement edge.

I also told them about the consultation where I had agreed to support a change of use for the former and now empty GPs on the exit to the estate, providing it would not be used as a rehab centre for drug users. I dont disagree with rehab centres but we have our fair share of facilities that attract people with problems already in Kenny, for once NIMBYism is appropriate so I had made that clear to the council when they asked for my views.

I discussed my promise to hold a regular surgery on the Phythian estate once elected, which having committed already to weekly surgeries in both Kenny and Fairfield, I had still not organised. I asked if it was still wanted, it was, so I agreed that Wendy and I would hold one once a month in the Youth Club in future to supplement the weekly ones elsewhere. They voted 2-1 Labour in May so they deserve our full attention and they will get it.

Maria from KNDC (Kensington New Deal for Communities, AKA Kensington Regeneration) who had come to support the youth worker, similarly named, talked about the plans for the shop front blocks on Kensington, many are due to be demolished during the next few months, including, I think, the infamous block where the cats were tortured and where paint was thrown on a local family in a racist attack. I am still a bit unsure about KNDC plans for each short block, I am going to ask them to walk me through it really soon. She is meant to be responsible for community safety so it was great that she came and spoke, even though the Phythian is in the twilight zone not covered by Kenny Regen.

Finally we talked about re-establishing regular residents meetings, the residents want it, the police want it, neighbourhood services want it, the youth service want it, Wendy and I want it, so we shall have it! Hopefully the Youth Club will host them until we can get some space in the old community centre if the plans to rent it to a School Drama organisation goes ahead.

I went away with four pieces of casework but that is what I am here for after all.

I dont know why Councillor Invisible and his co-councillor mate weren't there. I checked that they had been invited - they had and had confirmed their attendance - but I suspect they might have been reading an earlier blog of mine where I mentioned the incidence of LibDem councillors (and not just those two) turning up just before an election but otherwise neglecting the area. Either that or, knowing the turnout was 2-1 Labour in the election on the estate, they decided to cut their losses?

We dont need them anyway and they would not have known the first thing about any of the issues, so it was just as well really that we did not have to do the whole embarrasing thing we go through whenever we three are all together of who gets to report back and what news we have.

(Actually although I digress here, I do have a bit of sympathy for them. It was fairly easy for them when I was first elected and didnt know as much as they did about the issues or the history, but now it is clear to all that I have my finger on the pulse having very thoroughly emersed myself in the ward and they are too busy in the Town Hall to know the half of it. If I thought I was going to be put on the spot, or showed up by someone in the opposition party, I might be tempted to stay home too. I would be interested in a debate, perhaps in a separate blog entry, about split party wards and how to maintain local representation in very difficult circumstances)

Nights like last night make the job of being a councillor very rewarding, I have never done anything that felt this good before (except my role in the Labour Landslide of 1997). One of the most fulfilling evenings I will probably ever have as a local Councillor.


LouiseB31 said...

I have just realised having re-read this that I forgot to say explicitly that it was Central Youth Club (CYC) where we met, on Walker Street. Cllr Doran sometimes refers to it as Walker Street Boys Club which makes me think it has been around a long time and has a long history. I am only sorry that we never acknowledge each other so I am not in a position to ask him about how the club has evolved over the years. Anyway, they deserve lots of credit at the club.

Anonymous said...

The majority of people actually call it the Central Boys Club as it was up until some time in the 1990s. Typical Frank trying to make out he knows what he is on about and making a hash of it.

Anonymous said...

Cllr Baldock clearly does not know quite as much as she thinks she does. The '£300million' she quotes as being given by the government is not quite that at all. Let me explain why..

The City Council has thousands of council houses. It must pay for the upkeep of them (repairs etc) from a combination of government grant, and rent income. The Labour government (although to be fair it was a tory one that introduced the rule I beleieve), will not allow the Council to borrow any money to repair its council houses. Rents are also strictly controlled by guess who? Yes, the government! So we end up with a system whereby central government hold pretty much all the pursestrings in relation to Council housing finances. There are currently millions of pounds of repairs outstanding. Then the Labour government (and this one is their policy alone) comes along and says "You need to improve all your houses to x standard"...but of course canny readers will have already realised that since government controls all the cashflow, and is restricting it, the Council cannot ever fulfill what is known as decency standards by itself, ever. Period. It is simply impossible.

The Government knows this, so it comes along and offers some alternatives, which just happen of course to include stock transfer and a couple of other options which aren't very good so noone will really choose them. Hence Labour's housing policies force the Council to transfer all its stock to something called Liverpool Mutual Homes, or else all council tenants find themselves living in cardboard boxes or some similiar doomsday scenario.

Cllr Baldock claims she is against stock transfer. She should, given her history, know exactly why stock transfer is happening. It is Labour party policy but I suppose she's so in hock to the party and afraid of getting deselected that she'll never stand up against it.

Sad really, just another career politician or someone who stands up for her stated convictions? Time will tell.....

Incidentally, the Labour government is not giving '£300million' for liverpool's stock transfer as far as I know. The overwhelming majority of that amount is money that the new landlord will be able to BORROW commercially in order to renovate houses - it is not a gift from government. To say it is is not true, and I wonder whether Cllr Baldock will acknowledge that and apologise for getting her facts wrong?

If only councillors took the trouble to find out as much info as tenants in their ward....

Louise Baldock said...

Another anonymous poster, I sense a LibDem councillor's hand in this.

First of all let's tackle this idea that I dont know everything about everything. Well fancy that, that will be because I have only been a councillor for nine months will it? But when I put myself and my passion in front of the electorate, they chose me. They would not expect me to be so arrogant as to pretend to know everything.

I have said I dont believe in stock-transfer in here in black and white so you cannot accuse me of not being truthful about it. I believe in council housing and if necessary a co-operative alternative. It is not a secret. It wont cause any shock waves.

However as I said at the public meeting, publicly, again not hiding from anyone, if we are being blackmailed by starving tenants of housing repairs into this situation, I wont stand in the way of residents reluctantly supporting it.

In that meeting I used the figure of £130 million of Labour Government money as granted to Liverpool Mutual Homes for the stock-transfer. It was the Housing Officer who interrupted me to say the figure is actually £300million. I have said in this blog elsewhere that I do not pretend to be an expert on council funding (again not hiding anything). So I used his figure here, happy to acknowledge it is wrong if that is the case, I dont think the earth will tremble if I do.

The £130million figure that I am confident of is particularly interesting as it was the vast lion's share of the total pot available for the whole country. Our Labour government gave Liverpool almost the whole of the pot it had. I think that is something Liverpool should be very proud of.

By the way, you will find that I am not so arrogant as to fail to apologise or admit to being wrong if I make a mistake. So you can challenge me all you like, I hope I am humble enough to take any faults or errors on the chin.

I have never been in hock to the party, I dont even know what that means. Do you suggest that somehow I owe them something more than I give? Interesting, your party must work in a different way to mine. Nobody in the Labour Party is ever given public office, you have to fight for every vote, from the public, so if I am in hock to anyone it is to the people of Kensington and Fairfield that I owe so much.

I dont know what you in particular mean when you talk about a career politician, although I dont know that it is neceessarily a bad thing to want to make a career out of representing people.

We have many councillors on all sides of the council chamber who dont work but dedicate themselves to being a politician, and I dont see a problem with that.

Personally I do go to work as I need the money to pay my mortgage. But I do wish I didnt have to and could give those extra 37 hours as a councillor too.

Indeed if I am honest I dont think Leaders of Councils, especially ones as big as Liverpool should have any other career although I realise Cllr Storey and Bradley thought they could manage two jobs at once. To me they cannot be doing both to the best of their abilities.

Do you perhaps mean that I intend to be round for the long haul? You bet I do! Do you mean that you suspect me of having political ambition within Liverpool? Too right I do, public service is a great thing and I want to be giving as much as I can for as long as I can. If you think that is a negative then we shall have to agree to disagree.

I think that covers everything...